Fried Messages

Your brain on anti-drug ads

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In 1998 the Office of National Drug Control Policy launched the $1.2 billion National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, using tax money to buy time and space for ads produced by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. An August report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), drawing on evaluations by the contract research firm Westat, found "credible evidence that the campaign was not effective in reducing youth drug use, either during the entire period of the campaign or during the period from 2002 to 2004, when the campaign was redirected and focused on marijuana use." In fact, during some periods and for some subgroups, exposure to the ads was associated with an increased tendency to smoke pot.

In a press release issued around the same time as the GAO report, the partnership tried to console itself by harking back to 1987, when it made a splash with its iconic, unintentionally comic "This Is Your Brain on Drugs" spot. "The 'Fried Egg' TV message was so popular," the partnership bragged, "that it was satirized and spoofed on T-shirts, records labels, posters, and even on Saturday Night Live." As they like to say at the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, "If they're mocking us, we must be getting through to them."

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